WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
Another prominent Auckland gymnastics programme has been rocked by allegations of abuse, after a former elite athlete at the Counties Manukau club claims she was forced to make herself vomit in a bid to lose weight.
The gymnast reached out to the Herald after the Weekend Herald revealed that several gymnasts had been subject to abusive behaviour including fat- and body-shaming while in competitive programmes at North Harbour.
Kylie* said the emotional and psychological abuse she allegedly received while at Counties Manukau for 10 years from 2001 affects her to this day.
She claims that, from the age of seven, she was told she was too fat to do gymnastics and wasn't good enough.
"At the height of the abuse I was 13 years old, in level six moving up to level seven in 2009. I was training an average of 24 hours a week.
"I was called fat on a daily basis, was told I was a waste of their time and that I would never be good enough for them to care. I vividly remember being weighed regularly and that weight being exposed to other gymnasts," Kylie claims.
"My body was constantly compared to other gymnasts and we were all made to 'compete' with each other to be the smallest."
The competition to be thinnest led to a "toxic environment" and manifested itself in a horrific incident that Kylie has alerted Gymnastics New Zealand to.
"During [a] training session I ran to the bathroom feeling ill. A few minutes later another gymnast came in saying she was sent to find out if I'd thrown up, and if I hadn't she had been instructed to teach me how to make myself throw up before I could leave.
"She instructed me how to stick my fingers down my throat to make myself throw up. She stood at the cubicle door until I had done this then walked with me back to the coach telling him that she had taught me how. He told me I should practice it more as it would probably help me lose weight."
Kylie says she raised her concerns to the leadership of Counties Manukau Gymnastics but claims she was told that she was the only person raising concerns and she should look at her own attitude and performance before blaming them. She was then immediately downgraded into a lower performance group.
"This solidified and increased my feelings of worthlessness the gymnastics industry had imposed on me for six years."
Although Kylie was told she was the only one complaining, she claims others were abused on an almost daily basis.
"I watched my teammates pushed to breaking point constantly in training sessions. I could not count the amount of times someone would be in tears after being yelled at.
"I watched athletes train and compete on injuries that were not taken seriously. One with a foot injury was forced to train until it actually broke," she said.
Kylie considers the alleged abuse she received to be "normal". Looking back, she says, it angers her that everybody knew it went on but felt it was an acceptable part of the sport.
"Even at the lower levels of competition, gymnasts were constantly berated and belittled by people who were supposed to mentor, teach and guide us… we were children.
"Gymnastics in New Zealand has always had this darkness engrained in its culture. It's been 10 years since I ended my sporting career but I still feel the lasting effects of my abuse in my adult life.
"I struggle with accepting my body the way it is and I constantly fight against fears of not being good enough."
Kylie says she is speaking out now because she doesn't want any more childhoods taken away. She wants gymnastics to be what it always should have been: "A fun, beautiful sport that empowers children and teaches them how strong they are and what they are capable of".
Despite several requests by the Herald, Counties Manukau Gymnastics are yet to comment on the allegations.
The Herald has also approached the coach at the centre of the claims of abuse.
*Name changed upon request.